Thursday, March 22, 2007

UMC: Understanding Mass Craziness

As you may or may not know, Matt (and I) have been experiencing a trying time, not just with my job and his appointment being up in the air, but with an upsetting setback in Matt's ordination process. Matt and his parents, of course, have been United Methodists for a couple decades now, and are fairly well-versed in all the different boards and committees and agencies and all the terminology that accompanies this crazy microcosm called the United Methodist Church. Having been raised in the Disciples of Christ tradition--one of the "Christ-only" denominations that came out of the Second Great Awakening, notoriously anti-credal and anti-hierarchical--I've found all this bureaucracy hard to adjust to, and it often frustrates me, to put it mildly.

As we have been entrenched in commissioning, probationary, appointment stuff in recent months, I have gained a better understanding of UM polity, and have delivered my brief tutorial to my parents numerous times as they struggle to understand what's going on in Matt's career and our life right now. My cousin e-mailed me this morning, asking how life is going, and what's new with our up-in-the-air career situation. My situation was fairly simple to explain--current job ends March 30, still job hunting, turned one job down and am interviewing for my dream job on Monday--but explaining Matt's situation took a bit more effort. How do you explain the ordination and appointment processes to someone totally outside the United Methodist system? Many UM laity don't even understand how all this works, and it sounds utterly ridiculous to someone totally outside the system. Can we say red-tape, anyone?

My lengthy explanation (with minor edits) went as follows. Consider this a tutorial for any of you readers who are unfamiliar with exactly why we have been so upset the past week. The sheer length of this discourse, and the number of times I had to use quotations for all the terminology bears witness to the confusing nature of UM polity:
"The United Methodist Church is pretty bureaucratic, so there's all these steps before ordination. Matt is currently a "licensed local pastor," and now that he's graduating, it was time for him to begin his three years of full-time "probationary" ministry before he could be fully ordained. He has spent the last year doing all the stuff necessary to go before the "Board of Ordained Ministry" so they can "commission" him into his "probationary" status. Matt spent countless hours doing the essays and paperwork, and it cost us about $500 in various fees (like getting a physical, getting a psych evaluation, hundreds of photocopies, etc.) and they told him a week ago today they'd decided not to commission him, which was devastating to us. There was very little explanation why, and it's not even that a majority of the board didn't approve him, but there are 4 committees, and you have to get approved by 3 of them, and so a majority of the people on two of the committees voted him down. We knew a lot of people were getting rejected, and that it was a possibility Matt would, but we really didn't think it would happen to him because he is highly regarded in the Tennessee conference as an up-and-coming innovator, doing outside-the-box ministry and all that. But, boards typically don't like outside-the-box, I guess, and anyway, that's been a major blow to us this past week. Lots of people have been calling us with condolences, and a lot of people are outraged. Besides a blow to his pride, we then began to wonder what we should do--stick around and try again next year, or move to a more forward-thinking conference, or pursue ministries outside the UMC. In the UMC, the church (not the Board of Ordained Ministry, but the bishop's cabinet) tells you what church you're appointed to, so we worried that even though he's still got his "licensed local pastor" status, he wouldn't get as good an appointment because of this. All this happens in the spring, and then pastors change churches (not every year, but if they do) in June. So, we've been anticipating hearing where he's appointed sometime between now and the end of April...."

And so on. I fully admit that this may not seem crazy to someone raised in an episcopal system, but to a born-and-bred congregationalist like me, it seems like layers of human controls buffering between the work of God and those carrying out that work in the congregations. That aside, I love the high-church liturgy that often accompanies episcopal traditions like the UMC and the Episcopal Church USA, and am considering all this education in church polity to be a useful addition to my studies of the American religious landscape.

To end on a high note, let me add that we've gotten a closer-to-definite sense of where Matt will be working next year, and it seems we'll be staying in the Nashville area and buying a house, which makes us very happy :0)

1 comment:

Tracy said...

Glad to read this explanation of everything here. Could you maybe email me when you post new things to your blog? I had been meaning to keep up with it but I had forgotten about it.. now I feel stupid for leaving that voicemail asking you about what's going on with the commissioning thing when you'd already written it all out here.... :o)

And thanks for the shameless plug for DWF in that other entry!!! :o)

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